Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on 17 February 2014
I had read Bronze Summer and thought that this book could not get much more depressing. Well, it's a close call.
I was interested to see how the alternative history caused by saving Doggerland from the rising sea at the end of the last Ice Age would play out in the final book. This is a long enough book that I was reading it over several evenings, and finally I just decided to finish it one afternoon so I would not keep on being depressed while going to bed.
Bronze Summer gave us a Bronze Age with early iron workings, and the spread of potatoes across Europe. There was constant famine, warfare, plague, betrayal, sexual assault and murder.
In Iron Winter at least we were spared most of the violence against women. All the rest is there though. The people who have not managed to make glass, have yet managed to harness coal and steam to run railways across the continent and the giant Wall. I was sure that glass would be needed for gauges and so on to make steam engines that would not explode.
The setting is around our 1300s in which the Little Ice Age brought years without summer; it killed off the Danish inhabitants settling Greenland, leaving only the hunting Inuit people to subsist. Read Jane Smiley's 'The Greenlanders' for an excellent account. In Iron Winter however the ice, and glaciers, just keep on coming, so that a new Ice Age makes farming life impossible in Eurasia.
I was thinking, oh no, not the Hatti again. I didn't like them in the last book and didn't really want to read more about them.
We see various people in different situations, but few of them are sympathetic enough that we care what happens. Many seemed to be the same characters from the previous book. Names are often awkward and one scholar makes a journey to Cathay, accompanied by a Greenlander and a young man. The young man shows the best example of personal growth - others are just humbled by new uncertain situations and bow to survive. Or don't adapt much, and die.
This story will interest students of geopolitics, although I could not see why the Normans didn't exist and why the Romans didn't beat down Carthage. Vikings were raiding Ireland in the 1000s and settling its major river mouths. Ireland and Normans don't get a mention.
If the author had not chosen to tell such grinding tales and bring his world to an end, he could have been selling us cheerfully inventive alternate histories for many more books. I guess that was his choice, and I hope he chooses to write something more positive next time.